News flash: Patriots lose to Bills in Week 18, finish 8-9 and miss playoffs.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you that this was going to happen in some fashion.
From March 18:
“So what is going on with the Patriots heading into the 2022 season? Perhaps it’s as simple as Brady being gone, or perhaps it’s something more sinister, like Belichick losing his fastball in terms of player selection, scouting, and development. Or it could be that he’s getting bad advice within his tight circle of trust, and it also could be that they’re providing bad advice because they have no business being on the staff in the first place, or specifically in the roles in which they’re serving.
Belichick will turn 70 next month, and he needs people who are well-versed in the machinations of the modern-day NFL and player personnel. Instead, he employs a mish-mash of wannabes who aren’t qualified to give proper advice, much less coach players and positions with which they are unfamiliar.
This is a situation that bears watching in the coming months and years, because unless Belichick’s coaching staff continues to improve as its roster does (or doesn’t), the glory days of Patriots past are going to seem more of a distant memory.”
From May 13:
- “(Analyzing the upcoming season game-by-game) Overall projected record: 8-9, dropping five of their last eight to close the season, translating to no playoffs. Then what?” After a deceptive 5-4 start this season, the Patriots indeed dropped five of their final eight and finished, you guessed it, 8-9.
From Aug. 26:
“So you’ve got an inexperienced team, not practicing enough, not playing enough in exhibition games, and apparently in serious need of some real coaching, no more so than on the offensive line and the passing game. But alas, the team is not getting the best level of coaching, because Belichick hasn’t staffed the team with veteran coaches who know what they’re doing.
Look, the team, on paper, is still pretty talented, and should win quite a few games, but when was the last time you saw an NFL team be successful when its coaching staff was so mismatched and overmatched?
Still, the 70-year-old Belichick probably still thinks he has it, and will make this mish-mash of a coaching staff actually flourish in on-the-job training, but if it doesn’t — and few around here suspect it will work — then a number of this coaching staff of misfit toys will be engaging in out-of-the-job training by this time next season.”
From Sept. 2:
- “(If you are in the acceptance phase of the five stages of grief regarding the Patriots,) You are wise to the fact that subjecting a second-year QB to a couple of non-offensive coaches calling plays is not the best way to further the player’s growth. You wonder whether a 70-year-old Belichick still has it, and you also note that said coach’s head-coaching record without Brady is still 70-79 overall and 29-58 against teams with a .500 winning percentage or better.
Belichick himself said in an HBO special filmed with Alabama head coach Nick Saban in 2019, ‘Good players can’t overcome bad coaching.’
If you’re in the acceptance stage, you’re looking at this quote and admitting, well, obviously! And this on top of the fact that nearly every other team in the AFC has improved (with the possible exceptions of Tennessee, KC, and Cleveland), nearly 20 percent of the current 53-man Patriots roster is rookies yet the team is still the second-oldest team in the NFL, and you’re accepting of the fact that this could be a long season.
As a wise man once said, ‘Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.’ For Patriots fans, that might be the advice to take as the season opener looms, because by all indications, there could be a whole lot of disappointment dead ahead — and that’s whether you’re in denial or accepting of this premise.”
Look, I was certainly not the only doomsayer prior to this Patriots season, so I’m not patting myself on the back (much). Most people covering the team and even fans with realistic expectations knew that there were going to be problems all season long, no more so than with the makeup of the coaching staff. It all played out pretty much as we predicted, and a franchise that over the years has been at its best in Decembers and Januarys closing out regular seasons has gone just 8-15 over those periods over the past four seasons.
And that’s why there was little surprise when the organization put out a statement Thursday night that read, “The New England Patriots and Head Coach Bill Belichick have begun contract extension discussions with (inside linebackers coach) Jerod Mayo that would keep him with the team long-term. In addition, the team will begin interviewing for offensive coordinator candidates beginning next week.”
Hallelujah — an offensive coordinator at last, rather than a former defensive coordinator calling plays all season long for a second-year quarterback already on his second playbook in as many seasons. Yes, Mac Jones will have to learn a new offensive system this spring and summer, but if he can bite his tongue and realize that he will be (much) better coached for the 2023 season, the team is bound to improve.
And while I made a point all season long of picking against the Patriots as part of this newspaper’s “Gridiron Gurus” NFL week-by-week prognostications, the fact is that this seemingly ultra-flawed team came within one victory of earning a winning record and making the playoffs. While that would have been laughable given the team’s season-long struggles, the fact is that somehow, some way, Belichick & Co. almost did the unthinkable and overcame obstacle after obstacle and reached the hallowed postseason.
And come to think of it, if you look back on this season and winter of discontent, there were so many opportunities for that Patriots team to wrench out one more win that would have clinched the playoff bid.
In the season opener, the Dolphins parlayed a defensive touchdown, an interception, and a forced fumble into a 20-7 win. Obviously, the Pats’ offense did little, but Jones and the offense pretty much handed the Dolphins three scores.
In Week 4, with Jones out and New England relying on backup Brian Hoyer, they suddenly found themselves with third-stringer Bailey Zappe at the helm after Hoyer was concussed, and yet the gritty Pats took two-time defending MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to overtime at historic Lambeau Field. The fact that the coaching staff didn’t trust Zappe to make the plays and the throws probably led to the conservative offensive approach that ultimately cost the Pats the 27-24 decision.
Then, of course, there was the competitive effort on Thanksgiving night that saw New England blow a 23-16 third-quarter lead, partly due to its special teams giving up a 97-yard kickoff return, and the Vikings outscoring the Pats 17-3 down the stretch to earn a thrilling victory.
Then the three killers: the loss in Las Vegas when the Patriots could have settled for going to overtime and instead literally threw away the game on the contest’s final play with that wacky and ill-fated lateral; the late-game fumble against the Bengals that prevented the Pats from earning a statement win over the red-hot Bengals and (likely) a playoff berth; and then Week 18 in Buffalo, when the Patriots again played well but were blitzed by not one but two kickoffs returned for touchdowns, and those two special-teams breakdowns likely were the difference in the Pats’ 35-23 loss (to that point in the season, there had been only four kickoffs returned for TDs in the entire NFL, and New England gave up two on their own in the same game, and three of those four during the entire season were Patriots' screw-ups).
There’s a lot more to analyze about the Patriots’ 2022 season, but they pretty much got what they deserved despite being a win away from an unlikely and unexpected playoff berth.
It’s now up to Patriots ownership — and the coaching staff — to improve what was obvious to all what needs to be improved upon, and this kind of common-sense approach may help erase this forgettable season in local fans’ minds and turn their hopes to a less-dysfunctional and much-improved product on the field, and sidelines, this fall.